Archives for category: Chemicals


“We are rightly appalled by the genetic effects of radiation; how then, can we be indifferent to the same effect in chemicals we disseminate widely in our environment?”

~ Rachel Carson, author, Silent Spring

Huffington Post – “Bio-Remediation or Bio-Hazard? Dispersants, Bacteria and Illness in the Gulf

CorpWatchGulf Dispersants: BP and Nalco Play Toxic Roulette

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From BrandeisNow (an article about Upstream Contributors Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein):

This year’s Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award goes to three researchers, Drs. Patricia Hunt, Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein, who have dedicated decades to researching and identifying the effects of BPA in plastics on mamalian cells. The honoree will give their prize talks tomorrow, Oct. 22, in Rapaporte Treasure Hall, Goldfarb Library.

The potential dangers of BPA — bisphenol A — now cannot be disputed. More and more research shows effects of the estrogen-mimicking chemical that is frequently used in such items as plastic bottles, aluminum can linings, heat-activated register receipts and even some dental sealants.

In 2008, in an FDA report on BPA, the National Toxicology Program expressed “concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.” In July of this year the FDA announced that baby bottles and children’s drinking cups will no longer be allowed to contain BPA.

According to a New York Times report, a study of over 2,000 people found that more than 90 percent of them had BPA in their urine. Traces have also been found in breast milk, the blood of pregnant women and umbilical cord blood.

The Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine is given to scientists in academia, medicine, or industry whose work had outstanding scientific content and significant practical consequences in the biomedical sciences. The award consists of a $15,000 cash prize (to be shared in the case of multiple winners) and a medallion. Recipients travel to Brandeis University in the fall of each year to present a lecture on their work. It is followed by a dinner at which the formal presentation takes place.

The winners are:

  • Dr. Patricia Hunt, an internationally renowned geneticist, and a professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University. Her talk is titled:  “Making a Perfect Egg: How Age and the Environment Affect Our Reproductive Health”
  • Dr. Ana Soto, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at Tufts University School of Medicine. Her talk is titled: “BPA exposure, Development and Cancer”
  • Dr. Carlos Sonnenschein, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at Tufts University School of Medicine.  His talk is titled: “Social Impact of Scientific Discoveries: The Case of Endocrine Disruptors”

The Gabbay Awards were established in 1998, when the trustees of the Jacob and Louise Gabbay Foundation decided to create a new award in basic and applied biomedical sciences.

Nominations are solicited from selected scientists in industry and academia. A panel of distinguished researchers representing the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, as well as universities and schools of medicine, are assembled to consider nominations.

Because of their long association with Brandeis University, the trustees asked the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center at Brandeis to administer the award.

Visit Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein’s main Upstream page.

From NPR.org (an article about, and interview of, among others, Upstream Experts Leo Trasande and Frederica Perera):

BPA could be making kids fat. Or not.

That’s the unsatisfying takeaway from the latest study on bisphenol A — the plastic additive that environmental groups have blamed for everything from ADHD to prostate disease.

Unfortunately, the science behind those allegations isn’t so clear. And the new study on obesity in children and teens is no exception.

Researchers from New York University looked at BPA levels in the urine of more than 2,800 people aged 6 through 19. The team wanted to know whether those with relatively high levels of BPA were more likely to be obese.

But the results, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, didn’t offer a simple answer to that question.

Among white kids and teens, higher BPA levels were associated with more than twice the risk of obesity. With black and Hispanic youth, though, BPA levels didn’t make a difference.

“When we find an association like this, it can often raise more questions than it answers,” says the study’s lead author, Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University. There’s no obvious reason why one group of kids would be affected by BPA while another group wouldn’t, he says.

Also, there’s no way in this study to know whether BPA is actually causing kids to put on weight, says Frederica Perera, who directs the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. “Obese children may be simply eating and drinking foods that have higher BPA levels,” she says.

And even if BPA is playing a role in weight gain, it may be just one of many chemicals involved, Perera says.

“Our center has recently published a study showing that exposure to another group of endocrine disruptors, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAH, was associated with obesity in the children,” Perera says. Those hydrocarbons are typically a part of air pollution in cities.

Some of the uncertainty about BPA may come because the researchers had no way of knowing how much exposure kids in the study may have had in the womb — the time many scientists believe chemical exposure is most likely to have a lifelong effect.

“Clearly we need a longer term study that examines exposure in the earliest parts of life,” Trasande says. Even so, he says, it may be time to rethink childhood obesity.

“Diet and physical activity are still the leading factors driving the obesity epidemic in the United States,” Trasande says. “Yet this study suggests that we need to also consider a third key component to the epidemic: environmental factors that may also contribute.”

* * *

Read entire story and transcript of NPR interview here.

From Harvard Gazette:

Life evolved in a toxic world long before humans began polluting it, according to a University of Massachusettsenvironmental toxicologist, who added that understanding life’s evolutionary response to environmental poisons can help people to fight destructive effects.

Emily Monosson, an adjunct professor in the UMass Department of Environmental Conservation and author of the book “Evolution in a Toxic World,” said that an understanding of both how rapidly and how slowly life can evolve to fight toxic pollutants is largely missing from toxicology, which is the science of understanding the effects of poisons on life, particularly human life.

Monosson, who spoke Thursday at Harvard’s Haller Hall in an event sponsored by the Harvard Museum of Natural History, said lessons from our evolutionary past that might help us avoid trouble have been ignored by toxicologists and industry alike.

Monosson said she wrote the book in an effort to get toxicologists to think differently about their field, which she said still uses tools that are 40 years old and badly need updating.

“The basic point of doing this book is to get toxicologists to look differently at our field,” Monosson said. “Toxicology needs to change.”

Examples abound on the ramifications of rapid evolution, she said. Bacteria reproduce so fast that they quickly evolve resistance to drugs used to treat disease, resulting in frightening new ailments such as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Similarly, insects can rapidly evolve resistance to pesticides, and weeds can evolve resistance to herbicides.

“Roundup Ready” soybeans offer an example where a better understanding of the rapidity of evolution might have helped, Monosson said. The soybean was genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup, which could then be sprayed on soybean fields, where it would kill weeds but not the soybeans. Officials believed that the weeds would not become resistant to Roundup. But after blanket applications, it appears that some resistance is evolving.

Slow evolutionary change also holds lessons for toxicologists and industry, Monosson said. Estrogen receptors help to control the body’s use of the critical reproductive hormone. Some industrial chemicals bond with the receptor, widely disrupting reproduction of an array of creatures.

Estrogen receptors are highly conserved, meaning they are widespread among many kinds of creatures and have changed extremely slowly over time, an indication of their evolutionary importance. An understanding of that importance would have helped officials predict that chemicals interfering with them would have widespread and deleterious environmental effects, Monosson said.

“There’s a lot of problems we could have avoided if we understood the power of evolution in the presence of toxic chemicals,” Monosson said.

It is unknown how humans today will respond to the many chemicals, usually at low levels, that our bodies are carrying. Some of these chemicals may be harmless alone but could have interactions with other chemicals in our bodies, Monosson said.

“Those chemicals in us today weren’t in our grandparents,” Monosson said. “If we take an evolutionary approach to understand how systems evolved to detoxify chemicals, maybe we can learn how to do it [ourselves].”

A toxic Earth is nothing new to life, Monosson said. When life began 3.8 billion years ago, there were poisons all around. Besides the presence of metals and other toxins in the environment, early microbes were bombarded from above. The early Earth had little oxygen in the atmosphere and no protective ozone layer to shield the microbes from ultraviolet (UV) rays.

In response, early life evolved an enzyme, photolyase, to repair the UV damage to DNA. That enzyme, though lost in most mammals, remains widespread in other types of creatures.

Another early example involved oxygen, which is very reactive and on the early Earth acted like a poison. Life has since evolved to handle and depend on oxygen. One strategy evolved to break down hydrogen peroxide, a highly toxic chemical that forms naturally in the presence of oxygen, water, and UV rays. Early life developed an enzyme called catalase to detoxify hydrogen peroxide, accelerating the natural breakdown process from weeks to a fraction of a second.

In the future, climate change promises to alter the range of many creatures, putting them in new environments to which they’ll have to adapt. The ozone hole is exposing creatures to higher levels of UV radiation than they’re adapted to handle. And human-generated pollutants continue to be released into the environment, presenting an environmental challenge for a wide array of creatures.

Some, like Hudson River fish that have evolved to thrive despite the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), will evolve their own solutions, but others may need human intervention to handle an environment whose toxicity is changing much more rapidly than in the past.

“The problem today is that in a blink of time, we changed the Earth,” Monosson said. “We’ve added a lot of new synthetic chemicals and redistributed a lot of natural chemicals.”

Read entire article here.

Image by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer.

From :

NRDC’s Larry Levine describes the successful, decades-long battle to clean up General Electric’s toxic PCBs from the Hudson River and gets a tour of the cleanup project with EPA.

While we’re lucky that we no longer make PCBs, there are so many other chemicals in our lives, and we don’t really know what their cancer-causing potential is.

From EurekaAlert (a press release about research by Upstream Expert Frederica Perera):

According to a new study, children exposed to high levels of the common air pollutant naphthalene are at increased risk for chromosomal aberrations (CAs), which have been previously associated with cancer. These include chromosomal translocations, a potentially more harmful and long-lasting subtype of CAs.

Researchers from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University Medical Center, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report the new findings in Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Naphthalene is found in both outdoor and indoor urban air. It is present in automotive exhaust, tobacco smoke, and is the primary component of household mothball fumes. Classified as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Cancer Research, naphthalene belongs to a class of air pollutants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Prior research at the CCCEH has established a link between prenatal exposure to PAH and increased risk for childhood obesity, IQ deficits, and CAs. The new study is the first to present evidence in humans of CAs, including translocations, associated with exposure to one specific PAH—naphthalene—during childhood.

The researchers followed 113 children, age 5, who are part of a larger cohort study in New York City. They assessed the children’s exposure to naphthalene; a CDC laboratory measured levels of its metabolites—1- and 2-naphthol—in urine samples. (Metabolites are products of the body’s metabolism, and can serve as marker for the presence of a chemical.) Researchers also measured CAs in the children’s white blood cells using a technique called fluorescent in situ hybridization. Chromosomal aberrations were present in 30 children; of these, 11 had translocations. With every doubling of levels of 1- and 2-naphthol, translocations were 1.55 and 1.92 times more likely, respectively, to occur.

CAs have been associated with increased cancer risk in adults. Translocations are of special concern as they result in a portion of one chromosome being juxtaposed to a portion of another chromosome, potentially scrambling the genetic script. “Translocations can persist for years after exposure. Some accumulated damage will be repaired, but not everyone’s repair capacity is the same. Previous studies have suggested that chromosomal breaks can double an adult’s lifetime risk for cancer, though implications for children are unknown,” says first author Manuela A. Orjuela, MD, ScM, assistant professor of clinical environmental health sciences and pediatrics (oncology) at Columbia University Medical Center and a pediatric oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.

To obtain a better sense of the long-term consequences of naphthalene exposure, Dr. Orjuela and other CCCEH investigators are following some of the children in the study as they reach fourth grade. While they expect to see further translocations, they do not expect to see any signs of cancer in the white blood cells. “So far, the translocations seem to be random, and there has been no evidence of the specific translocations that are known to be associated with leukemia. This is entirely expected; leukemia is very rare.” Frederica Perera, DrPH, senior author on the paper, adds that “the findings provide yet more evidence of the vulnerability of the young child to carcinogenic air pollutants.”

The researchers hypothesized that naphthalene exposure was primarily from mothballs, which can release high levels of the chemical. Furthermore, according to previous research, some Caribbean immigrant families use mothballs as an air freshener. Other important sources of naphthalene in indoor air are tobacco smoke, paint fumes, cooking, and heating. The new findings have implications beyond the urban environment as elevated levels of naphthalene metabolites have been documented in rural communities using biomass-burning stoves (coal, wood)—another source of PAH exposure.

From Wired:

Since returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, an untold number of soldiers have come down with puzzling health problems. Chronic bronchitis. Neurological defects. Even cancer. Many of them are pointing the finger at a single culprit: The open-air “burn pits” that incinerated trash — from human waste to computer parts — on military bases overseas.

Pentagon officials have consistently reassured personnel that there was no “specific evidence” connecting the two. But now, only days after Danger Room uncovered a memo suggesting that Army officials knew how dangerous the pits were, an animal study is offering up new scientific evidence that links burn pits to depleted immune systems.

“The dust doesn’t only appear to cause lung inflammation,” says Dr. Anthony Szema, an assistant professor at Stony Brook School of Medicine who specializes in pulmonology and allergies, and the researcher who led this latest study. “It also destroys the body’s own T-cells.” Those cells are at the core of the body’s immune system, “like a bulletproof vest against illnesses,” Szema tells Danger Room. When they’re depleted, an individual is much more prone to myriad conditions.

For scientists, trying to establish a definitive connection between those diffuse health problems and the pits has been exceedingly difficult to do. Most notably because the Department of Defense, as a report issued by the Institutes of Medicine noted last year, didn’t collect adequate evidence — like what the pits burned and which soldiers were exposed — for researchers to draw any meaningful conclusions about the impact of the open-air incinerators. Szema’s study is only on 15 mice, so it’s by no means definitive. But it is an important first step.

Regardless, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Pentagon officials were aware of the risk posed by the pits. Another memo (.pdf), written by Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis in 2006 and obtained by Danger Room, warned of “an acute health hazard” to personnel stationed at Iraq’s Balad air base. “It is amazing,” he noted, “that the burn pit has been able to operate … without significant engineering controls being put in place.”

But as recently as yesterday, when asked about the leaked Army memo obtained by Danger Room (which cited a risk of ”long-term adverse health conditions” from the pits), Pentagon spokesperson George Little told reporters that “we do not have specific evidence that ties these kinds of disposal facilities to health issues.”

Perhaps not. But researchers just got way, way closer. A team, led by Dr. Szema at Stony Brook University, this week revealed to Danger Room the results of their ongoing investigations that are trying to directly link health problems to the air emitted by burn pits. And the results should cause those who served near the pits — which burned trash at most major bases in Iraq and Afghanistan during at least some period over the last decade — to be concerned.

More.

From EurActiv:

Shanna H. Swan, a renowned scientist specialising in reproductive medicine, has warned about the health effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) known as phthalates which can end up in food via pesticides or plastics. In an interview with EurActiv, she calls on regulators to better protect consumers against those “hidden chemicals”.

Shanna H. Swan, PhD is Professor and Vice-Chair for Research and Mentoring Department of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr Swan is known for her work on the impact of environmental exposures on male and female reproductive health and has served on the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Hormone-Related Toxicants. She was speaking to EurActiv’s editor, Frédéric Simon.

You are a well-known scientist in the field of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), which you have been researching for many years. What were your main findings?

The major findings I have are that certain EDCs – and I’ve looked specifically at pesticides, phthalates and Bisphenol A – are significantly related to human development, more strongly when exposure is foetal but also some adult exposures.

Has exposure tended to increase over time?

There are some studies of old stored samples. That’s the only way we can know about a person’s exposure. So to put this in context, unlike studies of smoking or pharmaceuticals where you can ask the person what their exposure was, you cannot learn anything – or very little – about a person’s exposure from EDCs by asking them what they do.

These are chemicals that are hidden – I call them stealth chemicals – and for this reason the only way we can know what the exposure was is to measure it in biological samples, either in urine or blood. Urine is usually easier and for various technical reasons preferable for the non-persistent chemicals.

When older samples are available and have been looked at, they have shown that levels were lower in the past. I can’t unfortunately be more specific but I could point you to some references.

So these go as far back as the 1960s?

There was one study in 1958 called the Collaborative Perinatal Project which had stored urine. There was a Kaiser California study in the early 60s which had stored samples. So these are very rare studies, they are the only ones.

In the most recent years some of the phthalates, for example DEHP, has decreased with the substitution. So we can pick up certain trends in use in these national samples of urinary metabolites.

Do we know precisely what the sources of exposure are?

For that, you have to go chemical by chemical. So if we restrict ourselves to phthalates, you still have to narrow that further because phthalates have different uses. Some phthalates are added to tubing to make it soft, particularly DEHP.

This is in the tubing in hospitals, in the tubing for milking cows, whenever you want a soft, flexible, plastic, you will take DEHP. Whatever is passing through that, particularly if it’s warm, it will absorb that. In this way we get exposure through material that has passed through this.

And also from milk?

It is measurable in milk, yes. So for DEHP, our dominant route of exposure is through food and there’s some in water. But you also get DEHP if you are in a medical department and hooked up to a tube.

Phthalates have been banned in some uses already such as toys, etc. So can we consider the problem solved?

Let me just go back for a second. Phthalate is a chemical class and so it’s important because you ask me if there are many exposures.

If we put cosmetics on our skin, our face – men, women, children, babies – we immediately get another phthalate in our body, which is DEP. And this is very clear. If we put hair spray or put a nail polish, then we inhale that phthalate which is primarily DBP.

So it’s a complicated story because we have many sources and many routes of exposure and also differing toxicity. Now, as for whether the problem is solved – not at all. We’ve only begun to solve the problem.

But there have been bans on some of the uses of phthalates which were of most concern, such as baby bottles…

No, this was Bisphenol A, it’s another chemical class. Think of it this way. Phthalates makes plastic soft, BPA makes plastic hard. So if you have one of these sports water bottles, those were made with BPA. Hard baby bottles, that’s BPA. Lining of tin cans, that’s also BPA. But Phthalates are on the soft side of the equation although they are both plasticisers.

Ok, so why do I say the problem is not solved? The primary elimination of phthalates has been from children’s toys. Certainly this is important but it does not protect the most sensitive organism, and that is the developing foetus.

So a toy is something you play with after birth, the pregnant mother is getting an exposure which is for the foetus much more potent than what the child will get with a toy.

By eliminating these phthalates from children’s toys – I think it is important, excellent, I certainly support it – but I would not do that at the expense of eliminating phthalates in products to which pregnant women are exposed. Because that is the most critical target for phthalates.

There has been a lot of controversy for many years over the health risks of low-dose exposure to chemicals such as phthalates. Looking at the science, is there any evidence to support this?

Let me say three things.

First of all, there is absolutely no doubt that tiny, tiny doses of hormones can permanently alter the development of the foetus – at the right time. You cannot look at the dose alone, you must look at the dose in a particular time window, because otherwise you don’t have the toxicity captured because that’s really a product of two things: Not just the dose but the timing as well.

The next thing is a story that isn’t obviously about chemicals but just to point out that we know from some human and many animal studies that when a rodent is in utero  (in the mother’s womb), each one of those is hooked up in the uterine horn and they will be located between two other pups.

So if you look at a male between two males, and a male between two females, you can measure how much testosterone is in those two males. And the difference is significant and measurable and very, very small. It’s about a drop in an Olympic-size swimming pool. That’s how small it is. It’s an extremely low dose, one part per trillion.

And what is the consequence of exposure to this?

The consequence is that the rodent that is a male between two males grows to be more aggressive, more masculine in behaviour and in his general development. He will have a stronger sperm count; he will be more fertile. And there’s no question about that, it has been shown in a number of species. And there are a number of supporting human studies. I only mention this as proof of principle that a very small amount of hormonal substance at the right time alters development.

Now let’s just go to the human situation. When people say, ‘Well the doses are too low,’ I say two things. One is, ‘Maybe so, but we are seeing effects’. So whatever dose it is, it seems to be doing something. There are probably close to 30 studies that find associations between phthalates and a variety of human health end points.

The counter-argument could be that these effects could be coming from something completely different.

Exactly. Not the counter argument, but a relevant, additional point is that, we are never exposed to one chemical. In fact a recent study found 200 chemicals on average in babies at birth.

That means that in utero the babies had 200 chemicals circulating in their bodies affecting their development, on average. The maximum in that study sample of ten was 287. So we are unquestionably exposed, and the foetuses as well.

So yes, there are many chemicals and statistically you can ask what are the associations with just DEHP metabolites, just DBP metabolites. But it’s not the most efficient way to do it. Better is to ask what about co-exposure to all of those? What about the cocktail effect?

Now, we cannot reasonably, with the sample sizes we have available, yet look at the 200 all together. But we could look at and do look at multiple exposures. So the fact that they may be quite low individually, we know that these doses add up, and so if you have several of these, you already add up to a much higher dose.

Do we know specific combinations that are particularly harmful?

Yes, among the DEHP metabolites, there are many of them, we currently look at four or five of them and can assess the sum of them. That’s one example but there are others.

This sounds quite scary. How should consumers behave or react? If my wife was pregnant what should I be telling her?

I get this question all the time. It’s a frustrating question because I can only give you a partial answer. On a simple side, I would tell her she could limit her exposure to harmful personal care products.

And the reason we can give this advice is that they have been looked at quite carefully by a number of NGOs, and specifically I point you to the Environmental Working Group website called ‘Not Too Pretty’, where they actually go through product by product and talk about the chemicals in them. That’s a nice tool for consumers.

You can also say, just a blanket precaution: Do not use air fresheners, do not spray things in your house, products and so on.

Where it gets more problematic is that even when we tell people all these things, only in rare situations can we remove these chemicals from their body. And one of the major reasons is that they are so deeply hidden, you can check the label on the lotion but you can’t check the label on your spaghetti sauce or on your bottle of milk and so on.

So we need to give consumers the tools to make informed choices. And at this point we don’t have those tools.

You mean labelling?

Labelling, yes, and also advice about behaviour – for example not to store in plastic, not to microwave in plastic.

What I tell people if you want to do the best you can, buy local produce, buy it unprocessed, buy it organic. There is a population in New York that does this, and that is the Old Order Mennonites [an anti-technology religious group similar to the Amish]. They’re quite severe, they grow everything themselves, they don’t drive in cars, they don’t use sprays… and they have very low levels of environmental chemicals.

And that has been scientifically measured?

Yes, we measured how many phthalates and phenols were in their urine and they had almost none. And it’s interesting because a couple of women did have peaks. One was a woman who used a hairspray. And you could see this because we asked what did you do before you came here and gave your urine? And this woman said, ‘Well, I was not supposed to but I used hairspray because I was going out.’ And there we see the peak for MBP in her urine.

And then another woman rode in a car even though they don’t do this normally and you see another peak. So in an extreme situation – which to most consumers is quite radical action – you can eliminate.

Another population was given regular food and then they fasted. Their urine was tested under the normal diet and after 48 hours of fasting and they had no DEHP in their urine at all.

Of course we can’t all fast! So I think we have to make it much easier for consumers to avoid these products.

In terms of chemical presence in food, there have been measures taken at EU level to reduce the use of pesticides. In France for example there is an objective of halving the use of pesticides by 2018, and there have been bans on aerial spraying and things like that. Are these steps sufficient to reduce the risk of contamination in food?

Well, removing pesticides certainly removes one source of exposure to EDCs – and a very important one, and I think this is great.

By the way, aside from phthalates, we found a number of pesticides and herbicides in the Midwest where they were associated with a lower sperm count. So these are acting as well. Also I should point out that phthalates are actually in pesticides – they are put in there to increase absorption.

So these measures to reduce pesticide use are certainly a good thing to do but it won’t do the whole job. As long as the food is processed in contact with phthalates or Bisphenol A, canned, shipped in plastic, stored in plastic or cooked in Teflon, there are just a lot of occasions along the way to pick endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

And pesticide removal is certainly a very important first step but then we have to worry about what happens to the food after it is picked and along the rest of the chain from farm to fork.

In Europe, we have minimum residue levels for pesticides in food below which ingestion is not considered to pose any risk for human health. Are you saying these should be lowered further?

I cannot comment on permissible level of pesticides. But I can comment on the question of a threshold. We have many examples in environmental science – the best I think is lead – that no matter how we keep dropping the permissible level, we see adverse effects still at a lower level.

And I think that what we have to keep in mind is that to some particular sensitive populations and particularly sensitive periods, perhaps the level has to be reduced further. But there will have to be some practical level – obviously we can’t remove everything entirely.

You may be aware that in Europe we have this REACH regulation on chemicals which is undergoing a review this year. Are you encouraging policymakers to tighten REACH even further?

For me the most important thing about REACH it that it alters the burden of proof. Of the 80,000 chemicals in commerce in the world, 62,000 were just blessed and assumed to be safe in the United States.

That is actually the default assumption still in the United States: That until a chemical is proven harmful it is assumed to be safe. This of course places the burden of proof on the consumer, to prove harm, which is not where the burden should be in my opinion. So generally shifting the burden of proof I think is extremely important and should be implemented in US policies as well.

The US must actually follow REACH if they are going to export to Europe. What has been the impact on the US industry the way you see it?

I can’t tell you that. I do know that that is not the default assumption in regulation. So whether they do something different to send things to Europe, I’m sure they have to, and I’m sure they do, but it is not what they accept as their burden to prove safety before a product is marketed.

As far as whether the regulation should be tightened, that is a very broad question. And what I have an opinion about is that I feel that endocrine disruption is a category deserving its own regulation. It’s different enough from reproductive toxicity and carcinogenicity. The risk assessment for endocrine disruption is different. The scientific issues are different enough that it would protect public health much further if we could deal with this as a class of chemicals. So that’s where I see maybe tightening up.

For you as a scientist, the link between endocrine-disrupting chemicals, the ones you have been studying, and lower fertility has been proven and is scientifically watertight? Can it be argued against?

Watertight? This is never the case, of course. There are still people here who argue cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer. Of course it will always be argued against.

I think we have now a lot of data that environmental chemicals can and do lower sperm count, impact time to conception, increase foetal loss in early pregnancy, affect pregnancy outcomes. Do we need more studies? Of course we do. But do we have enough information to act on these studies that we have? I say that we do.

More.

From Metro (quoting Upstream Expert, Dr. Carlos Sonnenschein):

The synthetic chemical bisphenol A, which is used in the linings of beer, soda and food cans, plus plastic water bottles, has been exposed as a hormone disrupter and linked to autism, cancer and other complications in the body. But it might be just the tip of the iceberg of toxic chemicals impacting us every day.

“There are 80,000 chemicals in everyday use that have never been tested,” says Dr. Carlos Sonnenschein of Tufts University School of Medicine’s Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology. “It really is a nightmare.”

Despite decades of research supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences on the harmful effects of BPA and other endocrine disruptors, Dr. Sonnenschein says that “very little has been done about it where it counts for the public, that is, at the regulatory end (EPA, FDA).”

Dr. Sonnenschein urges the public to get involved in banning toxic ingredients because “nothing will change,” he says, “without protests before officials who run for local, state and national office. The public has an important stake in this.”

The potential effects of such ingredients are widespread: “Hormonal disruptors, at their most radical, cause fetal damage during pregnancy. There’s more incidence of breast cancer as there’s more exposure. [Pubescent girls] are particularly sensitive to exposure. But, throughout our lives, continuous exposure means the body is storing the chemicals in fat tissue,” Dr. Sonnenschein adds.

“Most people are fed up with all these chemicals. The evidence is there. It is time for the regulatory agencies to act to protect the people.”

BPA: here to stay

Despite a lawsuit from the international nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, the FDA recently ruled to continue allowing BPA in food packaging. The NRDC’s public health
program’s senior scientist, Dr. Sarah Janssen, responded in a statement, which in part read:

“We believe FDA made the wrong call. The agency has failed to protect our health and safety — in the face of scientific studies that continue to raise disturbing questions about the effects of BPA exposures, especially in fetuses, babies and young children. The FDA is out-of-step with scientific and medical research. This illustrates the need for a major overhaul of how the government protects us against dangerous chemicals.”

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The Chicago Tribune has just published a brilliant collection of articles, documents, charts, and videos that Upstream readers shouldn’t miss.  Here is the video for Part 4 of their series on EPA’s inefficacy in regulating toxic chemicals.

Regulators have allowed generation after generation of flame retardants onto the market without thoroughly assessing the health risks. One chemical touted as safe is now turning up in wildlife around the world. Read »


The Chicago Tribune has just published a brilliant collection of articles, documents, charts, and videos that Upstream readers shouldn’t miss.  Part 3 of their series looks at the troubling role of industry in science.

Companies that make flame retardants say science shows their products prevent fire deaths and are safe to use, but the research they often cite is either seriously flawed or grossly misrepresented. Read »

The Chicago Tribune has just published a brilliant collection of articles, documents, charts, and videos that Upstream readers shouldn’t miss.  Here is the video for Part 2 of their series on the troubling role of the tobacco industry.

With cigarettes starting deadly fires, tobacco companies created a new scapegoat — the furniture going up in flames — and invested in a national group of fire officials that would deliver the message. Read »

The Chicago Tribune has just published a brilliant collection of articles, documents, charts, and videos that Upstream readers shouldn’t miss.  Here are the opening paragraphs of the first article in the series.

Dr. David Heimbach knows how to tell a story.

Before California lawmakers last year, the noted burn surgeon drew gasps from the crowd as he described a 7-week-old baby girl who was burned in a fire started by a candle while she lay on a pillow that lacked flame retardant chemicals.

“Now this is a tiny little person, no bigger than my Italian greyhound at home,” said Heimbach, gesturing to approximate the baby’s size. “Half of her body was severely burned. She ultimately died after about three weeks of pain and misery in the hospital.”

Heimbach’s passionate testimony about the baby’s death made the long-term health concerns about flame retardants voiced by doctors, environmentalists and even firefighters sound abstract and petty.

But there was a problem with his testimony: It wasn’t true. . . .

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